Thursday, August 28, 2008

Vacation...what the band means to me...

I am sitting in the airport, on my way to Sanya, Hainain Island right now. It is said to be the nicest beach in China, an island located in the South China Sea, actually a bit past (West of) Hong Kong. Becky and the kids and Hal and Ruth are already there. Really looking forward to getting there for some relaxation and reconnecting as a family.

It was great to have Jacob and Eli back and I am very proud of them for how well they seem to have done in the U.S. without us. Thank you to everyone who helped make their trip so successful and memorable. They really had a blast.

The reason I am a day behind everyone else is Woodie Alan had a big gig last night, scheduled long ago. We played at Star Live, the biggest non-arena venue in Beijing. I have seen the Roots and Sonic Youth there. Capacity is probably close to 2,000 if packed in tight. We opened for Zhang Ling, a pretty famous guy who played bass for Chinese rock godfather Cui Jian for years. The night was sponsored by Guitar China, a guitar website, and they did a story there. I look like hell – these pictures more than anything told me how badly I need this vacation! – and I can’t read the story any butter than you, but it was a great gig and I am still feeling an electric jolt the next morning.

There were about 300 people there, virtually all of them Chinese – they did zero publicity in English language press. We played all originals until the last two songs, which were “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Soulshine.” “Circle” is an old traditional American song. We start it out with a Woodie guitar intro, then I sing the first verse along with guitar, then the band kicks in. As Woodie was playing his extended intro, I raised my hands over my head and started clapping and the whole place began clapping along and it was one of the great moments of my life. Not because of egotism or leading people or whatever.. but because I had a roomful of Chinese people clapping along to an old Appalachian song popularized the Carter Family.

I don’t what that really means, if anything, but to me it means a lot. This music has meant so much to me in my life and shaped my view of the world to such a large extent. For various reasons, I feel like I lost touch with the centrality of music in my core, and the band has brought that back for me. I have never felt prouder of being an American and more conscious on a deep level of what it means to me than when singing these songs in China. I really can’t explain it any better than that. I’m sure that 99 percent of Chinese people listening just hear music, but I feel like some tiny few hear America in there. I know I do, and I also know that I never, ever could have figured out how to express what was in me without these great Chinese musicians prodding it out of me.

I am still working this out – this is a first draft of an idea – but on some level, this is the very essence of the upside of globalization. I don’t mean to be grandiose – just the opposite. I feel like the real potential for cross-cultural communication and understanding lies in many small moments of interaction rather than in anything large or state run.

We played great last night, really rising to the challenge. My singing was better than it has ever been. I heard things coming out of my throat that surprised me. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but since we decided to leave, I have stepped up to another level. Woodie said, “well, you got the blues.” There’s some truth there, but it’s not just that.

I f I knew quite how I did it, I would have done it long ago, but something clicked or snapped inside me and I crossed a line and abandoned whatever inhibitions held me back. Part of it as simply realizing that this is not going to last that much longer and I don’t want to walk away with any regrets or potential left untapped.

The musicians I have always been attracted to lay it all on the line and their ragged passion is their charm. I have never sought perfection in music. I’ll always take the guitarist playing somewhat sloppy licks because he is trying to get at the root of something and find something new than a guy playing perfectly placed licks because he has worked them all out and is playing a composition instead of an improvised solo. It’s what I have always strived to do with this band, and I feel like we are getting there now. We have gotten tight enough that we can loosen up and let go, secure that if one person stumbles, the band will catch them. That kind of security and confidence is what allows you to really push and see how far you can take something.

As we prepared to walk on the stage last night – from our dressing room, a first for us – Dave said to me, “Man, a year ago I couldn’t have imagined that we would be walking onto a stage like this.” The truth of that statement is beyond self-evident. We have really come a long way and I honestly feel that we are nowhere near topping our potential. We have played a ton of gigs together and the mileage we have put on has really paid dividends. I could torment myself thinking about the potential we won’t have a chance to fulfill, but instead I am going to really work to book us an American tour next summer.

I really want to see where we can take this and will do what I can to make that happen. I also truly believe that the time is right for more American/Chinese cultural exchanges. If we can serve that function while also furthering our own goals and ambitions, more power to us.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Woodie Alan with special guest

Maplewood bud Rick Wagner appeared in Beijing towards the end of the Olympics, after working for NBC in Qingdao. Coincided with a gig and he jammed some tunes. Played bass on a few, which moved Zhang Yang over to my Strat... he promptly played a great solo with his teeth.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I went out strong, posting like mad. I think I missed a few, but...

Here's a little personal essay type thought piece on what these Games meant to China.

My thoughts of what comes next for China sports world.

An attempt to explain justhow important this was for China.

My final post. The closing Ceremony seemed a little anticlimactic to me, but I didn't really see it. The atmosphere was just so different in the city and certainly in my head. 180 degrees from excitement, anxiety, anticipation to "Let's get this done and wrap it up."

It was strange to say good bye to everyone and leave to report on the Ceremony last night. I'd only been going there for three weeks but I spent a lot of time in that little room in that big sprawling building. It's odd that after aseing all those people so much I won't see them at all. Most o them ae multi-Olympics veterans who Here's a little would probably laugh at my rookie commentary on this stuff.

I know they were happy with my work and said it was getting a lot of action, but I have no idea what that means. I do know there were a lot of eyeballs on the site. This from the NY Times:
Benefiting from the growth in broadband Internet access, served up more than 1.2 billion pages and 72 million video streams through Saturday, more than doubling the combined traffic to its site during the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2006 Games in Turin. The popularity of the site will very likely make digital rights more significant in next year’s bidding for the 2014 and 2016 Games.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

That's a Wrap

Wow. We're done.

I posted like a madman the last two days. I will post some links later. time for a cup of coffee. a new day has dawned.

Party band

Well, Princess Anne didn't show up. But the British Olympics Association party did feature seven or eight Olympians, including a two-tie gold medal winning swimmer and a bunch of other medalists. Most amazingly, we pulled off this gig.

It was a black tie type party, in a huge hotel ballroom, with a few hundred people, including tables for all of the major sponsors (for 2012 London Games). We were in shiny black suits on a velvet covered stage. A set of instrumental jazz played without me -- was out writing a story. And then two long sets where we played every song we know and did so at low volume and with great restraint.

Best part was seeing the guys in suits. Zhang Yong and Lu Wei bought their first suits ever for thee gigs.

This was the third of thee corporate gigs we did, paying us about 10x what we make in clubs. It was the only formal event like this. All went well.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Yesterday's output

Has the rest of the world really caught up with USA basketball?
Um, no.

I went to my first boxing match yesterday and it was sort of a relief after all this talk of friendship and international harmony to get down to the real brass tacks. The Mongolians were going wild.

Yao Ming and Lebron James appeared together

for Coke. Weird scene. Hate to become a pr tool, but it happens sometimes

Thursday, August 21, 2008

CCTV appearance and more

Here is a clip of meappearing on English language CCTV-1 the other night I ran around like crazed monkey to get to this place, stumbled upstairs had some powder thrown on my face, changed my clothes and ran out onto the set about 5 minutes before cameras rolled. I appeared with two TV professionals. I didn't fall on my face, so that was good. First question: "China now has 41 god medals. And where is the United States, Alan?"

I didn't choke on my tongue, so I did okay. See for yourself.

Back to the ping pong store. I love this guy, the Dott of ping pong. Riper knows what I mean.

I spent yesterday afternoon watching hoops and eating spicy chicken in a little hutong restaurant. Can you believe they pay me for this?

How did China get so good so fast at beach volleyball? And what's with those bikinis?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Went to a track meet and news broke out

Yesterday, I wrote this preview about Liu Xiang, the Chinese hurdler widely considered to have the most pressure on him during the Games.

He is really ubiquitous here, on countless billboards.

This morning, I went to the Bird's Nest to see his first qualifying run. I will be otherwise occupied when he is supposed to run for the Gold Thursday night -- playing a gig for Princess Anne -- and I wanted to be in that stadium when he ran. So I went this morning to see his first qualifier.

But disaster struck.

People were truly stunned. You couldn't imagine a giant, raucous place going so quiet so fast.

I wrote this column about the whole situation.

And yes Woodie Alan will truly be performing for Princess Anne, in perhaps the greatest caper of my caper-full career. the night before we are playing another British soiree, for Lord Sebastian Coe. If I could figure out where to get a bowler hat and a pipe int he next 48 hours, I would certainly do so. A monocle would also be a nice touch.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

About that lazy day...

I had two stories to write and figured I could write it at tennis as well as anywhere and, as Becky reminded me, I the Olympics aren't going on forever. So I jumped a cab to the tennis center and watched the Williams sisters obliterate some Spaniards for the doubles gold. They are incredible. Hard to believe they lost in the singles, which was swept by Russians. I was over there for the medal ceremony. Russian press was going crazy, waving flags etc.

The Spanish fans were going wild the whole time though. Every country but ours seems to have some kind of rhythmic chant, clap and song that everyone knows. we respond with occasional yells of "USA!"

Then I watched Nadal crush someone for a while but had to go to the press room to work. I was about to rush home to get Anna when our friend Theo called asking if she could sleep over, because her kids really wanted to keep her. So I headed over to the Bird's Nest National Stadium, where I hadn't come yet during the Games to take in some track and field.

This place is incredible. I think it's sort of nonsensical, but looking up at that giant flame is somehow inspiring. And the runners... just wow. the women's 3000 m steeplechase had five of the six fastest times ever. Almost a Russian sweep except a Kenyan woman blew into second at the finish line, which is right in front of me.

Then I saw the Women's 100 m finals..those ladies can move. Jamaican sweep. Good parties in Kingston tonight.

And as I prepared to leave and beat the crowds, the massive field for the men's 10,000 m emerged and I figured I had to stay... a field of 39, featuring two Ethiopian legends. And they're off...

China advances to the medal round

This is the scene right before and after China beat Germany, advancing to the medal round.

The Olympics Basketball Arena erupted into pandemonium when China defeated Germany 59-55, virtually guaranteeing their advancement to the medal round (Germany would have to beat Team USA to keep China out). The packed arena knew what was on the line and cheered passionately throughout the game, celebrating hard as China cruised through the second half, seemingly on their way to victory.

The energy began to seep out of the building as Germany stormed back in the final minutes and China seemed on the verge of collapsing, much as they did against Spain last Tuesday. But after five straight empty possessions, Yao Ming hit a short jumper to stop the bleeding, pulling the audience back in with force. Minutes later, as the clock ticked down, with China holding the ball and a one point lead, future Laker Sun Yue drove the lane and kicked back to Yi Jianlin, who nailed the long two.

"That was the biggest shot of my life," Yi said afterwards.

When he hit the shot, the arena exploded into a flag-waving, cheering frenzy that didn't abate after the team walked off the court, continuing for 10 minutes. Later, when Yi walked into the press conference, he was met with cheers from the Chinese press, who applauded again when he stood up to walk out after answering a few questions.

With the medal round in sight, China will have to refocus on a new goal. The basketball tournament is sure to remain more exciting for all involved with China's continued involvement.

Spain/US basketball column and more...

I covered the Redeem Team's demolition of Spain and wrote a column about it. This was a lot of fun. Just an overwhelming performance.

This Spanish "slant eyed" controversy and lack of controversy has been really interesting.

Swimming is now over and I never did make it in there. Becky went to a bunch, though, including today as Phelps got his eighth gold.

I am laying low today, just doing some interviews from home and maybe hitting some evening events. Tomorrow, I will swing back into action, hitting events all day.


I thought this was well done and I largely agree with the sentiments. I know the author a bit.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Busy, busy

Having lots of fun and cranking along here. I am going to the Spain/USA basketball game in a few minutes and will be the lead columnist on that tonight. That will be on the home page probably, definitely on the basketball page.

Here's a sampling of what I've been up to.

A mini feature on Spain's Ricky Rubio.

Checking in with the ping pong store to take the pulse of the nation. Gotta do that regularly.
China and USA will both claim victory. Here's why.

A few people have asked me to send a link to my blog homepage. Bookmarks are your friends, people! Remember, I'm doing lots of other work as well.

A basketball column for Slam, covering the US/Greece blowout.

Anna at gymnastics

Becky steps onto my turf... exploiting our cute kids for journalistic gain.

I went to the match with them, but had to cut out early.

It was fun to be on the Green with Anna. here are some pictures.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some love for Becky

Not from me. My love for her is no secret.

She got some nice praise from James Fallows.

Well deserved, too. This is a great story.

Still going strong

Greece/US grudge match hoops game. But yesterday I was running around to the offbeat events.

I did this piece on a shooting competitor who is an 18-year-old from Manhattan,headed to Princeton next month.

Yesterday, it was also time to check out a little badminton.

Becky scooped me on this one. I'm working on a similar post, but have fallen behind.

Also, the other day I posted this recap of the Spain/China hoops game on Slam Online.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weightlifting, hoops and more

So, we had a pretty funny day yesterday. Becky and I spent all afternoon watching weightlifting together -- and we enjoyed it. The woman Becky wrote about last week was competing and boy did she deliver.What are the odds of us hanging out together watching women weightlifters?

Here's my story.

And here's Becky's.

Later in the night, I went to the U.S./China women’s game last night, a day after that epic game between the men. The women look great and are a pleasure to talk to -- smart, thoughtful and in no hurry.

Take note of the sign held up and Tina Thompson's reaction it -- as well as security's.

I am also managing to do some basketball blogging for Slam.

I don't think I've ever written more words per day.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

More reporting

Just a note: the blog index page a lot of you have does not include all of my writing. Now that I am covering lots of actual events, a lot of my stuff will not appear there. They don't consider that stuff to be part of my blog.

Yesterday, I covered two really cool events and I don't think reports from either are up there.

The first was diving featuring Guo Jingjing, one of China's most popular athletes. I was really happy with the way that one came out, and I had some time to actually write it for a change.

Then last night I covered the China/US basketball game, supposedly the most watched game ever and really the most exciting one I've ever been to.

And, rather unbelievably I was there when President W met with the team before the game. That's a whole other story and I am going to write a blog entry about that right now.

I can't get those last two links to work but they are here.

Basketball game:

President Bush:

Live blogging Women's Diving

My view

2:18 pm I thought I would try something different here and do a little live blogging. I need to take notes anyhow.

I am at first Diving competition of the Games, Women's 3M synchro springboard. I have a prime spot in the press "tribune" First row of many rows of press seating, directly up from the boards.

First observation: 3m is not very high. I guess I am more used to watching the platform diving. Those platforms are looming above the springboards, which basically look like a regular high diving board. I just watched the divers do their warmups and it is cool. I am excited.
Chinese divers Guo Jingjing and Wu Minxia are huge favorites. If they don't win, it will be a major upset. And China will be majorly upset. Guo is a superstar here, one of the most popular athletes. She's also very cute, as Woodie accurately pointed out to me this morning.

The press sheet says "the current Olympic and world champion pair look unbeatable in this event." This is the first of two golds Guo hopes to win.

This is my first visit to the Water Cube and it is as spectacular as advertised, as cool looking inside as it is out, one outside wall and the roof a series of large translucent bubbles, that look like giant cellophane planes.

About 10 minutes before the event starts, the divers come out, line up and are introduced. The first sight of Guo and Wu elicits cheers and their introduction brings an ovation. They dive second, and are greeted by a huge roar, followed by pure silence as they prepare to dive, then dive, followed by another roar as they seamlessly complete their first simple back dive. Everyone else feels almost like an afterthought, most of the crowd clearly just waiting to see Guo and Wu dive again.

Though there is a small band of vocal Brits behind me cheering loudly for the British diving team , who don’t look all that impressive to my rather untrained eye. ..ah, the scores show I’m right.. lowest by far so far.

Germans are next and there are some of their countrymen here.. pretty big ovation. They look pretty eh , too. Looking forward to some tougher dives.

At the end of the first round, Guo and Wu are tied for first with Russia and the U.S.. The scores lead to another cheer, as China is shown atop the standings.

Each round, the anticipation grows and the applause for Guo and Wu grows. One of the deep realizations I made years ago when I started interviewing all the great retired basketball players was just ho important mental fortitude, determination and intensity are, how big of a component of athletic greatness. This is a good example, in a sense. Guo and Wu seem to be reveling in the attention, waving to the crowd slightly, bowing as they come out of the water after each dive. It would be pretty easy to freak out.

A really huge applause greets the revised scoreboard after the second round when it shows that gu and Wu have pulled far ahead after a three-way tie through one dive.

The entry on their third dive looked a little sloppy to e live, though the replay looks pretty damn good.. and the score shows… I was right at first.. lower scores than last time.

But after each round their lead grows, the anticipation towards victory rises and the cheering when the revised standing gets louder. After four of 5 rounds, they are leading the Russian pair by 17 points and only some sort of disaster stops this from being a fight for silver.

When they nail their final and most difficult dive, there is more cheering, repeated with each replay. The disaster did not come, and now it’s just a matter of letting the last six divers complete their work so Guo and Wu can collect their gold.

Party time

We went to a huge and really fun party at the Commune by the Great Wall last (Saturday) night. Just what we needed in the midst of working 12 hour days.. party an hour and half away in the mountains until 2 a.m. But aside from assorted celebrities (Quincy Jones, Hong Kong film star Maggie Cheung, Rupert M), many of our best friends were there. Really a lot of fun.

With good friend Scott Kronick, my soccer co-coach
for six seasons and much more.

Quincy Jones was not interested in jamming with
Woodie Alan. Hard to believe.

Jim McGregor, friend and guru.

Host of the evening Pan Shiyi.

Friend and colleague Jason Dean

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Holy moly

So the first day i sdone.

I crisscrossed Beijing. Made it home at about 1:30 am, having sweated through two shirts and everything else. My calves are aching like I ran a marathon and I am totally exhilerated, too pumped up to even think about going to sleep.

Becky was in the first row of the ceremony. I was running all over town , interviewing people.

The post is here...

They pasted them all screwy so it reads like a psychotic person who forgot his meds wrote it. Hopefully that will be resolved before you make it up there.

Every word was written and sent in on my phone. Not ideal conditions, but I stand by my work, and I had a blast.

I need to be back on the Green at 830 so I am going to force myself to sleep now.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Early Olympics pics

I'm on a roll and gonna keep moving with posting photos.

Some of these should have been on my NBC blog, but didn't make it for one dumb reason or another.

Kathy, David and Jesse drove us in to the Greens
before heading off to the Summer Palace.


We are working in buildings next door to each other.
She's in the Press Center. I am in the plusher Broadcast
Center. This is the only time we've seen each other
on the Greens. We drove in together.

The garbage truck drivers who drove me to work
at the International Broadcast Center the first day.

Fans trying to get pics of team USA greeting NBA Legends.
Note Willis Reed's head in foreground.

Team USA. No zoom. This was my seat.

After the game, fans just bum rushed the court.

Russian point guard J.R. Holden signs a ball
for hotel staff. Wilkinsburg represent!

NBA "Legends": Sam Perkins, Glen Rice, Dominique, Willis Reed

There's a whole nutty culture of pin traders.
The woman below told me she has been to 11 Games
and just comes to trade.

Bullet train to Tianjin was great. 360 km/h

Fan outside Tianjin Stadium. Lots of flags.
People keep talking about "nationalism" but would
it be any different in U.S.?

Ran into a synch swimmer while out
reporting today. her coach insisted on taking this
picture. Nice people.

Random wrap up

I was just on my laptop loading photos to send over for my latest NBC blog post and I realized I had some nice photos from David and Kathy's visit that I never got up..thought I'd so so quickly.. More coming..

Delaware Dave sits in with Woodie Alan at Cheers
Cafe. You like the new hat?

I swear I never get sick of going to the Mutianyu
Great Wall. We had a gorgeous day there.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Basketball mania and more

Spent all day in the IBC today. That's the International Broadcast Center. NBC's setup is pretty wild -- a labyrinthinian mini city. I may gain 20 pounds in the next few weeks too, because the catering is preposterous. burgers, pizzas, ice cream, smoothies...and free Starbucks. I had three Americanos today. Laying off the latte and all that milky crap was no problem, but I'll have to scale it all back. Right now, I still feel like I am sneaking in and better take full advantage.

As my brother David said, "Fat Al is back." All that good free grub is really bringing out the Fat Man in me.

Not sure how much or if I'll be posting up here because I am strapping in for a wild ride.

First events are actually tomorrow, two days before opening ceremony --prelim soccer games outside of Beijing. I am going to Tianjin to take in the first match.

In the meantime... I went to Shanghai for U.S./Russia hoops game on Sunday.

Here is my post for NBC.

And another for Slam.

I was also interviewed by Reuters for a Yao story.

And remember this index page for all my NBC posts, which could become quite voluminous.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Becky in the news

With the Olympics closing in, Rebecca is doing a lot more writing these days. So check out the WSJ every day and you will see her byline a lot more than any time in the past five or six years, since she first became a capo de capo.

Last week, she was one of a select group of foreign journalists who sat and interviewed Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Here's the story.

And here's the photo that ran huge on the front page of the China Daily the next day, much to her horror.

Look fast. My own censors may ban this post soon.